After her historic election in 1916, Jeannette Rankin predicted that more women would follow her to Congress. In this collection of interviews, women Members from across the country give credence to Rankin’s bold words, recalling the many ways they made a lasting impact on the institution.
The name recognition and maritime expertise Helen Bentley accrued as a longtime journalist covering the Baltimore city docks contributed to her successful run for Congress after two previous attempts. In the House, Bentley focused on shipping and trade issues, while also paying close attention to constituent service in her Maryland district.
Yvonne Brathwaite Burke made headlines during her political career, most notably for being the first Member to give birth while serving in Congress. With a seat on the Appropriations Committee and as the first woman to chair the Congressional Black Caucus, Burke built her reputation as a political star during her three terms in the House.
Much like her mother-in-law Katharine Byron, Beverly Barton Butcher Byron’s House career began unexpectedly when she succeeded her husband in Congress after he died in office. During her 10 years representing a Maryland district, Byron forged her own path in the House as the first woman to chair an Armed Services subcommittee and as a steadfast supporter of the military and American defense.
As the first African-American woman elected to Congress from North Carolina, Eva M. Clayton used her position on the Agriculture Committee to represent the small farmers of her rural district. Greatly influenced by the civil rights movement, Clayton’s political career reflected her interest in advocating for women and African Americans in her district and beyond.
Dubbed the “Lion Killer” for her improbable upset of a veteran Member, Elizabeth Holtzman earned a reputation as a determined legislator. A cofounder of the Congresswomen’s Caucus, Holtzman drew national attention for her service on the Judiciary Committee during President Richard M. Nixon’s impeachment inquiry and questioning President Gerald R. Ford about his decision to pardon his predecessor.
Known for her policy expertise and workhorse approach, Nancy Lee Johnson eventually became dean of the Connecticut delegation during her nearly quarter century in the House. She also stood out as the first Republican woman to serve on the Ways and Means Committee and as one of a handful of women to chair a full committee—Standards of Official Conduct (Ethics).
A politically-active small businesswoman before running for elected office, Sue W. Kelly joined a large freshman Republican class in 1995. The New York Representative rose through the ranks to chair subcommittees on the Budget and Financial Services committees. She also co-chaired the Congresswomen’s Caucus where she advocated for legislation to improve women’s health.
The daughter and wife of influential Connecticut politicians, Barbara Bailey Kennelly wrote her own political narrative beginning at the state level. To advance her political goals, Kennelly earned a hard-fought assignment on the powerful Ways and Means Committee and won a spot in the Democratic Leadership as the Democratic Caucus vice chair, becoming the highest-ranking woman in the party at the time.
During her two terms in the House in the 1970s, Martha Elizabeth Keys made history as only the second woman to serve on the influential Ways and Means Committee. A member of the large Democratic freshman class elected in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, Keys stood out among her colleagues professionally, with her prestigious committee assignment, as well as personally, with her marriage to House colleague Andy Jacobs of Indiana.
Susan Molinari rose through the ranks of the Republican Party after succeeding her father, Representative Guy Molinari, in Congress. She made headlines during her five terms when she became vice chair of the Republican Conference, married a fellow Representative, and gave birth to her first daughter. She used her committee assignments and congressional delegations to be a surrogate representative for women worldwide.
As a Republican in a swing district, Connie A. Morella worked closely with Members on both sides of the aisle to serve her diverse constituency. Morella walked a fine political line between meeting the demands of her district and following the direction of Republican leadership, all while drawing national attention to women’s health and domestic violence.
The first woman mayor of Charlotte and the first Republican Congresswoman from North Carolina, Sue Myrick won election to Congress during the “Republican Revolution” of 1994. Myrick played an influential role in her party as a freshman class liaison to the leadership, a member of the Rules Committee, and chair of the Republican Study Committee.
With little prior political experience, Claudine Schneider won a seat in the House on her second try with an effective grassroots campaign. The first and only woman elected from Rhode Island, Schneider’s independent approach to politics led her to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle on issues including the environment, women’s rights, and ways to minimize tensions during the Cold War.
Patricia Scott Schroeder began her 24-year career in Congress as a mother with two young children and evolved into a national leader determined to use her elected position as an advocate for women and families. A tireless supporter of women’s rights, she went from winning a spot on the Armed Services Committee—despite the chairman’s objections—to leading the Congresswomen’s Caucus.
During her two decades in the House, Lynn C. Woolsey brought attention to the plight of impoverished women and children by sharing her own experiences as a mother on welfare. Woolsey reflected the anti-war sentiments of her northern California constituents taking a leading role in both the Progressive and the Out of Iraq caucuses and calling for an end to funding American military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.